Brad Arndt looped up with his students from grade 7 to teach them in grade 8 this year. Brad also decided to enter into a team teaching situation this year with a colleague. Together, these two teachers created a highly engaging, responsive and flexible Learning Community for our students. It is awesome to see Brad embracing different opportunities in his own practice in order to provide students with the best possible learning environment.
PGP Year End Reflections from 2013/14 ~ Brad Arndt
My professional growth is something I take very seriously. I feel professional growth is an important area of focus for a few reasons. One, I think being a great teacher means building strong, important relationships. Two, I understand that effective teachers engage students in deep meaningful learning and; three, I believe, most of all, that the best teachers turn students into engaged, ethical, empathic citizens. Indeed, these are no small feats! Therefore, reflecting on my professional growth is never an easy task for me. I have a perfectionist streak and tend to be fairly critical of myself when I look back over the year. However, for this reflection, I want to keep the ideas positive. I want to focus on the accomplishments of the year and what those accomplishments have taught me. I want to reflect on how my successes may have brought me just a little bit closer to being one of those teachers who has significant impacts on students long after they leave the walls of our building. In order to do this effectively I have separated this reflection into three areas. First, I will discuss the things I felt went well for me this year. Secondly, I want to focus on a few of the lessons I learned from those successes this year. Finally, I want to touch on the things that helped me learn all of those valuable lessons. In the end, I want to be able to make the learning experiences of the past year more engrained and concrete for myself.
A Few of the Things That Went Well This Year
After thinking about the individual successes over the past ten months, I quickly realized that they fit into three categories. The first success I want to touch on was the success I had with team teaching and collaboration. Team teaching and collaboration with good teachers might be one of the best and most effective learning tools I have come across in my professional development; however, it can also be a risky form of learning. When the idea of working in a team teaching environment was presented to me, I had a number of fears. You have to be comfortable with the idea of being exposed as a teacher. You have to know how to handle feedback (yes, both the good and the bad) and you certainly have to be compatible in teaching styles or you might be in for a very long year. However, if you can get around those challenges, you will be in for a exceptionally rewarding year as a teacher. The discussions I have had this year regarding best practices in teaching were not always easy, but they were always informative. At times opinions can vary drastically, but we always managed to keep the personal and emotional feelings out of the conversations. We managed to keep the discussion and debates focused around ideas. I can’t even count how many times the discussion ended without a clear understanding or resolution of conflicting ideas, only to go home, reflect and come back the next day with a clearer picture and understanding of each other’s point of view. This debating, discussing and reflecting process is exceptionally informative and I really enjoy the challenging and stimulating team environment it creates. Overall, I feel this is such a great learning experience that I would recommend that all teachers work in team teaching classrooms at some point in their careers. There are also a number of other benefits to team teaching that add to the success of this experience. The students really benefit because they have two adults providing perspectives, feedback, and differing teaching styles. This maximizes the learning the students can achieve. It also means the number and frequency of check-ins are significantly increased. The workload is shared for so many of the day to day management and organizational tasks teachers face. Finally, there are the sanity breaks of getting to touch base with another adult throughout the day. It’s refreshing after talking to thirteen year olds for the majority of the day to have another adult to talk to in your classroom most of the time. Ultimately, team teaching is both highly efficient and an exceptionally powerful learning tool.
The second success I want to reflect on and share is the success I feel that I am having in my math classes. Mathematics has been a significant part of my teaching assignments every year that I have taught. While my education background is primarily in the sciences, I am finding some really great and exciting growth in my numeracy classes. This year I have tried various groupings in math classes, both early in the year and then again with our levelled numeracy groups for the second half of the year. During each of these different situations, I have noticed an increase in the level of student engagement and student growth in mathematics. These benefits have come from a wide variety of students. I have a group of eighth grade students who have a history of struggling in mathematics. They have started to have some success and a change in attitude towards learning math concepts. I have a group of high achieving eighth grade math students who have responded to more challenging material with engaging and passionate discussions about how and why specific math ideas work or don’t work. Many of these discussions allow for the students to see that there are often multiple ways to work through a math problem and therefore, they are developing a deeper understanding of the topics being covered. After seeing some of these successes, I have, of course, reflected on why I have been seeing these changes in the students’ attitudes towards mathematics. After considerable reflection and discussions with other amazing math teachers I am starting to think that there are three reasons I am seeing this success in my math classes. The first is something I have being working on from my very first year of teaching. I have been trying to focus on delivering math ideas from multiple perspectives. I have been focusing on the why and how the steps in a math process work, along with a heavy investment in modelling math concepts with visual and tactile representations of the step by step processes. I really feel that this is giving the students multiple ways to access the concepts and to take their understanding of mathematics deeper. Secondly, I have made a very conscious effort to provide helpful feedback and check-ins very regularly in math classes. I am almost never at my desk during class these days. I am floating around the room having meaningful discussions with students. Students are seeking these discussions not only with myself but are starting to turn to their peers to get help. After teaching math for four years I am finding I have a strong grasp as to where students are likely to make errors when learning new concepts, and I am able to catch these mistakes early on or, in some cases, avoid them altogether by using well timed feedback and discussions. The third thing I have found that has been helping me find success in mathematics teaching is the attempt to make more of my lessons have a practical application, or be more authentic or real life. This allows the students to become more engaged in the concepts. These types of lessons take a fair bit of work but even just a few of these lessons make a difference to the students in my class. I feel like, while I haven’t done as many of these types of lessons as I would like, I have been attempting to have at least one or two per topic studied. Connecting the learning to something practical helps give the concept meaning for the students. Even a small amount of this type of application makes a difference to students’ interest and engagement.
The third success I want to highlight is the extra curricular and special events that I took part in with the students this year. Some of my favourites include: Sun Run, Rabbit Hill Ski and Snowboard Club, Marmot Basin, Challenge Day, TWOS (Body Worlds exhibit), Skills Canada, Track and Field, and our LC 8 fundraisers for our year end Jasper trip. All of these events are critical to building meaningful relationships with the students I teach. These relationships transfer into the classroom and help the students develop Citizenship and Social Responsibility. Furthermore, these events help students find a little more enjoyment in coming to school. It is in these moments that I see the biggest smiles, the best attitudes, engaged excitement and even some really great learning. These are the memories the students will think of when they remember the middle school years later in life and I am proud to be a part of so many of them. I also love these experiences because it allows me to share my passions, and curiosities with the students. They see me getting “nerdy” about something and hopefully they see that it’s good to be yourself and it’s okay to be curious and interested in many different aspects of life. I like to think it is these types of activities that build the engaged, ethical, empathic citizens I talked about at the beginning of this reflection.
A Brief Summary of the Lessons I Learned This Year
The importance of relationships and collaboration for growth
The importance of feedback for growth
The importance of reflection for growth
If you take a quick look back at these three lessons that I have learned this year you will quickly realize that all three apply to both professional growth and to student growth. I have learned these things from the positive experiences I have had over the course of the year. In the past, I may have focused on my shortcomings and what those have taught me. However, I really enjoyed the process of focusing on the positive a little more this time around. I feel like the lessons are as important to my growth, maybe even a little more important than the lessons I learned from focusing on the negatives.
4. The importance of focusing on the positive!
A Brief List of the Tools That Helped Me Learn These Lessons This Year
Team Collaborators (LC 8 Team, GCMS Team, Design Team, and PSD70 Team).
Really Great PD Opportunities (Google Summit, Convention, IDEAS Conference – especially the Ewan McIntosh workshop, wow)